Petition forces referendum on budget

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ProspectBush2PROSPECT — The proposed 2013-14 town budget will go to a referendum vote.

According to the Town Clerk’s office a petition for a referendum containing 311 certified signatures — 111 more than what is needed to force a referendum — was turned into the office on Monday.

The petition was started by the Democratic Town Committee, committee and Town Council member Michael Scaviola said.

Scaviola said the committee started the petition because it felt it was unfair to ask people to vote on the budget while surrounded by town employees, such as members of the public works and police departments, whose budget they might be cutting if they object to the proposed budget.

“That is not a fair way to vote. There’s a reason people have a right to vote without other people knowing your vote,” Scaviola said.

The proposed budget is $7.4 million, which is an increase of approximately $451,000 or 6.5 percent over the current budget. The budget was slated to be voted on at a town meeting Wednesday night before the petition forced the referendum. The town meeting will still be held at 7 p.m. at Community School to discuss the budget. The referendum date will be set at the meeting.

Mayor Robert Chatfield said he favors voting at the town meeting because it gives residents a chance to vote down any specific line item.

“Last year we had a very spirited town meeting. The place was full. People asked questions and we had a vote,” Chatfield said. “With a referendum you just go in and vote yes or no.”

Scaviola said the committee was also concerned that not everyone would have a chance to vote if they were unable to show up at the town meeting. However, with the referendum taking place all day, it ensures the maximum number of people have a chance to vote.

“We’re not telling anybody which way to vote. That’s still their prerogative. We just want to make sure everybody has the chance to vote,” Scaviola said.

The town budget does not include school expenses for Region 16, which covers Prospect and Beacon Falls.

Last month, Chatfield presented a spending plan that had an increase of 5.3 percent, or $370,722.

Major cost-driving factors include health insurance, police department costs and a proposed reimbursement for firefighters.

Under the proposal, medical benefits would increase by $80,000, or 14.8 percent, to $620,000. The police department shows larger increases in the resident trooper program, which would increase by $5,721 to $111,680, and in officers, an increase of $53,440 to $498,000.

There is a new budget item for volunteer firefighters’ expenses at $33,600. Those funds would reimburse volunteer firefighters per call.

The largest single increase the Town Council added to the mayor’s proposal was $75,000 to the contingency fund to give a cushion against any large expense such as a storm without having to take from the fund balance.

Chatfield previously said money was added to various accounts that normally need a transfer, such as the ice and snow account. Under the spending plan, if he needs a transfer, he would first take it from contingency before touching the fund balance.
The budget proposal includes 3 percent pay raises for all town employees.

Elected officials don’t receive pay raises during their term of office. Any increases have to take place after the fall election.

The spending plan includes raises for the mayor, town clerk and tax collector. All three are up for election in November.